3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons

Praising Students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade

“Rosa has lined up so respectfully for recess.”  “Wow, Ethan is managing his time so well by checking the instructions.” “Check out how Candice has taken the time to carefully revise her piece before publishing.”  Here are 13 reasons–one per grade–to make positive praise one of your most valuable teaching tools.


Kindergarten: Motivate students by attaching their names to something positive.

Don’t we all hope for a little validation for our hard work?  School is a full-time job for students, too, and even your kindergarteners value recognition for their efforts.  “I see Kate waiting her turn to get a drink at the fountain,” goes a long way for a five year-old working on patience.

1st Grade: Highlight those who make appropriate choices.

This is not to be confused with grooming a flock of “teacher’s pets,” especially since that usually involves recognizing a select few.  Teachers should make it a priority to frequently catch all their first graders making good choices.  “I notice David found a great place to read his book,” conveys to the rest of the class what you value.

Helpful starting tip: use a blank class list to actually tally your positive feedback.  Not only will this help you develop awareness of how frequently you praise certain students, it will also help you notice how frequently you issue praise in general.

2nd Grade: Eradicate the common habit of focusing on those making inappropriate choices.

Since mischievous 2nd graders tend to stand out, this is much more difficult than it sounds. Next time you notice an off-task student, instead of going straight for direct reprimands, try praising a student within his or her proximity who is following instructions.  “I appreciate how respectfully John is raising his hand to share his ideas” gives effective feedback both to John and to a classmate who has shouted out, while placing the positive attention on the student making better choices.

Note: We absolutely believe that constructive criticism has its place; however, we contend it should be a secondary strategy–not your primary one.

3rd Grade: Teach students about the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Perhaps you have set up some kind of extrinsic motivation system in your classroom, such as earning classroom “money” for positive behavior.  Especially when used intermittently, this can be a valuable classroom tool.  However, imagine a statement such as, “I’m impressed that Johnny didn’t even need to earn a bonus to push in his chair.  He has become a responsible enough 3rd grader that he knows how to take care of our classroom without any extra reward.”  There is clear potential there for shaping a student’s desire for self-development, rather than always depending on tangible rewards.

4th Grade: Reinforce your instructions.

It’s exhausting to repeat yourself to inattentive students. Instead, picture this scenario.  As you discuss with your 4th graders the procedure for your latest science inquiry experiment, you jot each step on the whiteboard.  Then, as soon as students begin, flood the transition with simple, out-loud observations of those double-checking those procedures, such as “I see Kalli quickly gathering her supplies as we discussed for step 1,” or “Paul is double-checking step 3 on the board before he proceeds.”

The point: Proper instructions get reinforced, you don’t feel like a nag, and students who follow instructions get some recognition.  Win-win-win.

5th Grade: Reinforce your expectations.

As your fifth graders have generally become quite familiar with one another through their primary years, they often become quite social–which adds both liveliness and challenges to your classroom management approach.  Proactively reinforcing the appropriate times and contexts for socializing may keep the school year running more smoothly.  Some examples of this kind of feedback: “I see Marta respectfully listening to her group member, waiting to contribute her ideas until it’s her turn” or “Joseph wisely chose not to stand by his best buddies in line so he won’t be tempted to chat as we walk down the halls to lunch.”

Chris Suderman
Chris Suderman
6th Grade: Encourage specific growth.

Each year, my feedback tends to center around one idea or theme.  Some have included:

  • Make life easier for others.
  • Say no to distractions. (Inspired by Steve Jobs quote.)
  • You may solve your problems in ways that aren’t problematic for yourself or others.

These themes arose from the opportunities for growth I observed in each class collectively, and I voiced them every single day through my specific positive praise.  “Nancy made Jim’s life easier by stacking his chair when she saw he was busy at the end of the day.” “Robert is saying no to distractions by putting away his pencil during instructions.”  “Cindy solved her problem of losing her permission slip by making a new one for her parents to sign.”  My fifth graders became so familiar with it that they started using similar language in their own conversations.  Daily illustrating what it looked, felt, and sounded like through positive praise had a much more lasting impact than an individual lesson might have had.

7th Grade: Give reminders to off-task students without confrontation.

By 7th grade, most students “catch on,” often manifested by eye-rolling.  A strategy that involves reminding students of appropriate behavior without direct confrontation may be the very tool you need that will preempt power struggles throughout the year.

8th Grade: Build rapport with students.

By 8th grade, overt teacher praise is often officially “uncool.” Depending on the student, you may actually push away certain students if they feel overly recognized.  But as you gear your positive praise toward a more one-on-one level, it can still have a powerful role in building your relationships with students as they sense you respect them as mature young adults.  For instance, you may pull aside a student for this kind of feedback: “I could tell you dedicated some thoughtful reflection in your essay; I have other students that don’t yet understand what that kind of serious reflecting looks like, so I was wondering if you’d mind my sharing it with the class?  I can keep your name anonymous if you would prefer.”

9th Grade: Align your practices with research.

At Purdue University, the Department of Child Development and Family Studies discussed John Gottman’s positive to negative feedback ratio.  According to his research, marriage relationships thrive when that ratio is balanced at 5:1.¹  This research is reinforced in the classroom by numerous additional studies which find that “the use of contingent, behavior-specific praise has been linked to positive student outcomes, including increased student academic engagement and decreased disruptive behavior.”²  We simply must have a greater number of positive interactions with our students than negative.

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www.audio-luci-store.it via Flickr
10th Grade: Let the modeling of quality thinking and choices come from students’ peers.

21st Century learning and teaching is defined by a technology-facilitated shift: from teachers as sources of knowledge, to guides who coach students to assess and evaluate the knowledge now at all our fingertips.  Embrace this shift by allowing student peers’ work to be the model wherever possible.  Supporting the philosophy that quality ideas can come from anyone–instead of just one wisened individual–is both empowering and realistic in this modern age of collaboration.  For example: “Check out how Lucas is approaching this algorithm.  How can that strategy be helpful for some individuals?”

11th Grade: Encourage students to make better use of their resources.

Let’s say you put some dictionaries in your classroom (or the link to dictionary.com on your class blog homepage), hoping that will help eradicate spelling errors.  Maybe you even give your students a mini-lesson on how to look up words in the dictionary for spelling aid.  However, none of your best efforts will encourage students to utilize that resource as well as praising a student who does so.

12th Grade: Cultivate a growth mindset.

The way we praise students has a greater impact on their development than we may realize.  A motivation researcher at Stanford, Carol Dweck, has addressed the terms, fixed mindset and growth mindset.³  Students who receive praise that focuses on innate ability (“You got 100%–you’re so smart at math!”) develop a fixed mindset–instilling perfectionism, fear of failure, and belief that ability is static.  When the praise centers around effort (“You got 100%–you must have worked so hard!”), students develop a growth mindset–leading to courage, perseverance, and belief that ability is malleable.  See an inspiring video on this subject by Khan Academy below.

Sources:
  1. Poulson, Shruti S. (March 2008). A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship. Purdue Extension, CFS-744-W. Retrieved from https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-744-W.pdf.
  2. Rodriguez, Billie J. and Sprick, Randy. Why a Positive Approach to Behavior? A Research Summary. Randy Sprick’s Safe and Civil Schools. Retrieved from http://www.safeandcivilschools.com/research/references/positive-approach-to-behavior.pdf.
  3. Dweck, Carol S. (January 2010). Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. Principal Leadership. Retrieved from  https://www.nassp.org/portals/0/content/61209.pdf.
Photo Credit:

5 Back-to-School Posters for Any Classroom

School is back into full-swing for many schools by now.  Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important.  Here are a few of our favorite reminders.


#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto

Via www.BreneBrown.com
Via www.BreneBrown.com

(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too.  Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)

#2:  Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder

16483813778_c226204503_o
Via William Ferriter’s flickr stream

#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy

via Ann Landers
via (@4collegeparents)

#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence

Background image by Case Wade
Background image by Case Wade

#5: And this.

printers smell fear
Via @WeAreTeachers

Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!”  Have a great 2014-2015 year!

Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato

How the Digital Age is Altering Education’s Landscape (it’s not the gadgets…)

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹


Drip Effect

Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed.  However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²).  To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.

Sudden Educational Evolution

For many years, education remained fairly static.  Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation.  Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.

Now, all that is changing thanks to technology.  It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers.  It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration.  It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun.  It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices.  Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!

The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability

This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom.  What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning?  In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control.  The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:

Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209.  See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).

Walking the Talk

I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.”  Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out.  My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words.  Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective.  Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.

Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:

Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky.  But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.

Sources:

  1. Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
  2. Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
  3. Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

Featured Image:

Jason Paluck

10 Teacher Summer Projects to Try

Amid vacations, home projects, and quality family time, here are 10 professional activities to choose from this summer to keep sharp for next year!


#1: Build Your PLN!
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
#2: Explore ONE New Edtech Strategy

Flipped Learning, Student Blogging, BYOD, Mircroblogging with Twitter, etc.

Jeremy Keith
Jeremy Keith
#3: Explore ONE New Tool That Will Genuinely Help Students

(See 3 Tech-Savvy Alternatives to Powerpoint)

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
#4: Amp Up Your Class Blog’s Usefulness

(See 10 Tips to Increase Class Blog Interest)

DeclanTM
DeclanTM
#5: Scan Your Filing Cabinet

Seriously, it is SO worth the time you waste each year hunting through those metal drawers!  See our tips on teacher organization.

DeathtoStock_Creative Community4 compressed
Death to the Stock Photo
#6: Participate in Webinars, e-Courses, and TweetChats (sort “Topics” by Education)
Joe St. Pierre
Joe St. Pierre
#7: Read Literature on Your Students’ Level!

(See our post on read alouds for upper grades!)

George Thomas
George Thomas
#8: Reevaluate Student Desk Arrangements

We love Edna Sackson’s post on 10 ways to rethink your learning space, particularly because it gets us thinking about how the physical arrangement of a classroom reflects our values as  teachers.

ryuu ji 竜次
ryuu ji 竜次
#9: Honestly Evaluate Where You Stand as a 21st Century Teacher
Denise Krebs
Denise Krebs
#10: Make Enjoyable Summer Memories!

You need rejuvenation, and students need to know you’re not just a educational machine–which pictures help prove.  Win-win!

Death to the Stock Photo
Death to the Stock Photo

If you have a another fantastic project already in mind for this summer, we would love to hear it in the comments! Happy Summer!

Featured Image Credit:

Case Wade (with permission)

10 Tips for Teacher Organization

With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder.  Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!


#1: Get Rid of Your Desk

Karen Cardoza
Karen Cardoza

For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day.  If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead.  Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart.  Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!

#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)

Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students.  Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.

#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet

Jodimichelle
Jodimichelle

While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous.  Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away.  Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it!  Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer.  This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!

#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files

If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs!  Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills.  Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!

#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More

Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom.  CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.

#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork

Dazed81
Dazed81

Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms.  Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box.  You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!

#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You

Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)!  Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs.  Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!

#8: Adopt Google Drive

Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive!  Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage!  Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues.  Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!

#9: Enlist Student Help

Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization!  Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!

#10: Make a Display Wall

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Ali Edwards

This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards.  Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces.  If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!

What about you?  Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized?  Please share in the comments!

Photo Credits:

 

The Power of a Class Meeting

Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too.  It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!


5 Benefits

#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure.  This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning.  We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do.  Class meetings are a perfect way to do so!  Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.

#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.

In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships.  However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be!  Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness.  Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.

#3: Social Skills.

Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment.  As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!

#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
DoremiGirl
DoremiGirl

This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom.  On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle.  Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’”  This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year.  As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:

  • To make others’ lives easier
  • To learn
  • To become a better person
  • To show kindness
  • To provide a good reputation for our class
#5: Democratic Decision-Making = Increased Student Ownership & Voice.

No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students.  From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook.  When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person.  While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!

5 Set-Up Tips

#1: Establish rules and routines first!

No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations.  To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings.  Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder.  Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!

#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”

“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)

Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).

#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.

Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly.  We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc.  Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!

#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.

If it matters to your students, it should matter to you!  Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes.  If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!

#5: Allow Flexibility.

During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt.  We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.

Photo Credit:
Britt-knee (featured image)
DoremiGirl

Sources:
Winters. A. https://www.heartland.edu/documents/idc/talkingCircleClassroom.pdf